Dhooswan Sayami: Writer par excellence


– Sarad Pradhan

Like many other Nepali writers brought up in bordering areas, Govinda Bahadur Manandhar popularly known as Dhooswan Sayami also began his writing in Hindi despite being Newar. Influenced by writing in Hindi, Sayami, as others, wrote his first article in Hindi that was published in Balak. However, eventually circumstances made him a more of Nepal Bhasa (Newari) writer than Nepali albeit, he seems to be more prolific in Hindi than any other languages.

Inspired by Prem Bahadur and Puspa Lal Shrestha, he wrote poem in Nepal bhasa and sent it to Calcutta to Prem Bahadur for publication. The poem had only first few lines in Nepal Bhasa, rest in Hindi. They translated and published it. “ I started my writing career through prose. Poetry is my second creation,” says Sayami in an interview with me in his residence in 1996.

Gangki, meaning eclipse is his masterpiece novel in Nepal Bhasa which has been translated into Nepali, Hindi and English. It’s a story about a Manandhar girl and her armours and sexual adventure and exploitations. “There is a very interesting story behind my creation of Gangki. Once Vijay Malla told me he was writing a novel about a Manandhar girl living in Jhochhen. Since I am too a Manandhar, I told him that I would write on her in Nepal Bhasa as I had already written two novels in Nepal Bhasa-Misha and Pasa and I belong to the same community. It was 1956 and I was 26 years old. I took up the challenge but I was not too well acquainted with the Manandhar society. My wife helped me a great to understand Manandhar society and encouraged me by saying that it’s not a sexually dominated novel,” he explains. Sometimes I feel the only novel I have written so far is Gangki as everybody talks about it through I have written many good novels after that. But nobody is ready to accept that.”

Retired professor of Nepalese History and Culture, Dhooswan Sayami wrote many novels in Nepali Bhasa like Ji Bhaty Je sa tat, Nibha, and Deepa, Kharani ko Bhastee, Manga in Nepali. Maidase Mai Sarahaya, Reet ki Darrar and jaljala are his three novels in Hindi.

“My Hindi Novels are quote popular in Delhi, as I was a culture Attaché there at Nepalese Embassy. They sold out very well but never saw a second edition. In Delhi, in a meeting eminent poet of Hindi and Punjabi Amrita Pritam told me why did’nt I write my name as translator instead of original writer because it would give me the status of an International writer” he says. He is the lead character in Amrita Pritam’s story titled Adalat. In her memoir- Rasidi Ticket( Revenue Stamp), Amrita has devoted one chapter for Sayami titled- Honesty of a Writer. She writes,”  When Nepal’s Newari writer Dhooswan Sayami came to Delhi as the Cultural Attach  of his embassy, within a few meetings it was felt that the writer self inside him is bigger than his diplomatic position. This contradiction  was not pleasant to him, and he shared this and other personal troubles with me as a friend. Whenever he was troubled, he used to come to meet me, otherwise he would have called me. Well, one day I wrote a story about a very personal dilemma of his –  in story called ‘Adalat’. In those days, I was compiling a book of my stories in Hindi called ‘Punjab Se Bahar Ke Patra‘ and this ‘Adalat’ was also one of the eighteen stories I had selected for this book. The book went to press and I gave this news also to Dhooswan Saheb. Under each story, the name of the country to which its character belonged was given. So, the character of Nepal was written below the story ‘Adalat’. Dhooswan asked me to cross out the word Nepal and write something else at the bottom of the story, otherwise he would face trouble as a diplomat. I could never tolerate that he should have any problem, so as per his request, I got Assam written instead of Nepal. The book got printed. He also saw it. And wrote a note to me that when I write my biography, I must include this note of his in it. The note is – ‘This story is of Dhooswan, but the cultural attach is so cowardly  that to make this story a strange, he agreed to make his country Nepal a state of India, Assam.”

In his sojourn to Delhi as cultural Attaché in the early seventies. Sayami made many friends which helped him promote himself in the arena of Hindi literature. “I read many western writers like Lawrence. But later gave up reading after people accused my novels as a replica of western novels.”

Sayami’s novels are more poetic than others. They have a poetic feeling in the reality of life. He used to read whatever he got to know about language and its structure to polish his own language, handicapped by the influence of Hindi.

Sayami represented Nepal in many International literary conferences. He was a member of the delegation to Moscow. He went to Rome to learn about the western culture and United States of America to teach Nepali history and culture. To Bangladesh for the SAARC conference on history and culture.

“Nepali literature is not exposed in the western world. No substantial progress has been made in translation. We are more in the devotion of our own language. Even writers like me could muster media attention, it would be more rewarding if works of Devkota, Rimal, Sama or even younger writers can be translated in English,” he says. “In the last book fair in Delhi, many people asked about Bhupi, Lekhnath and so on. But they have not got a chance to read their poems either in Hindi or in English.”

He says the government should encourage English translation by establishing a separate department. “Our writers are not exposed to western readers. Readers would recognize Nepali writing if they were translated into English. I received many letters after my English edition of Gangki was published. Unfortunately, I have not received any letter regarding Nepali and Nepal Bhasa edition.”

He has established an award in the memory of his wife Bhansusara along with his novel. But now he feels the need of publishing house which can encourage new writers in publishing their works.” I have four novels unpublished in Nepal Bhasa. Sometimes I feel, to write many novels can be a curse as they will not find a publisher on time.”

Sayami’s article on culture has been compiled and published, its name being “Lotus” and “The flame” which were earlier published in The Rising Nepal. Currently, he is a member of The Royal Nepal Academy.

(This article was previously published in 1996 in the Kathmandu Post)